Obiter Dicta

Showing His Stripes

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There’s no rule specifically stating that you can’t do handstands in a courtroom, but a smidgen of common sense will suggest that things aren’t likely to go your way if you try it.

And judges, as a group, are not known for their enjoyment of being upstaged. So why does a defendant pull a stunt like wearing a bumblebee costume to his court hearing?

Conrad Braun, 54, was charged with blackmail last summer after allegedly making a threat against his ex-wife’s husband. He was in court in January so that a judge could decide whether his case should go to trial.

Braun said his insectile attire—including yellow stripes, cloth wings and a foot-long stinger—was a way of illustrating his conten­tion that he’d been caught in a “sting” operation set up by the district attorney’s office.

District Judge John Andersen III, presiding at the Johnson County (Kan.) Courthouse, was not amused and cautioned him against engaging in such antics in the future. Ander­sen then ruled that Braun’s case should, indeed, go to trial but wondered aloud whether the giant bug was competent to stand trial.

Braun’s public defender told the judge that in her opinion he was competent. The judge agreed and the trial was set for May. Braun assured the judge that he meant no disrespect or contempt for the court, and that future appearances would be minus the sartorial statement.

Oh, sure, we could say that Braun made a honey of an impression, and that the courtroom was buzzing with amused reactions, but we’d prefer not to drone on about it.


When Their Eyes Met on That Autumn Evening, It Seemed Sure They’d Never Forget Each Other

One night in October 2000, while driving through bucolic Jones County, Iowa, Ann Sauer was involved in a collision. The other party to the accident fled the scene immediately.

But Sauer knew the culprit was female and said she could identify her because she was able to look into her big, brown eyes.

Earlier that evening, four cows belonging to Justin Kaczinski had been roaming the countryside, having gotten loose from the property of farmer Alvin Benesh.

Starting to get the picture?

Sauer claimed that one of the cows—a 1,700-pound Holstein Simmen­tal recognizable by its reddish body with white markings—had wandered onto the road in front of her 1996 Saturn and was struck, causing severe damage to the windshield and roof.

The traumatized cow didn’t have the stomachs to stick around and took off into the countryside, but Sauer claimed she saw enough to be able to make a positive ID.

“We briefly looked at each other before she went off in the darkness,” she told a newspaper.

Sauer filed a lawsuit against both Kaczinski and Benesh, alleging negligence in allowing the cow to escape its enclosure.

The trial was reported to have taken six days and ultimately hinged on the ability of Sauer to identify the bovine she bashed, based largely on their exchange of glances.

Unfortunately for Sauer, the jury thought her case was a lot of bull and found for the defendants. It was decided that the cow Sauer was implicating as the hit-and-run heifer had not sustained injuries consistent with the impact.

“It’s possible it could’ve been Kac­zinski’s cow,” jury forewoman Sheila Schmidt was quoted as saying, “but it just wasn’t proved.”

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